Especially over the last month or so, I’ve heard some people remark on how unusual it would be for the Cubs to win a World Series championship with a rookie as their primary catcher — if indeed they do win this year. But it seems as if no one has actually done the work to see just how rare it is. So while working on the profile of Geovany Soto in this week’s Reader, I got out my trusty Baseball Encyclopedia and went through each series winner going back to the first in 1903. My findings? It has never been done before. Never. Not once.
Oh, some have come close. The Saint Louis Cardinals’ Yadier Molina was in his third season when they won just two years ago. Before that, a few narrowly exceeded the rookie maximum for at-bats (130) the previous year and went on to win it all in their first full season. As I point out in the story, Joe Oliver of, yes, Lou Piniella’s 1990 Cincinnati Reds batted 151 times the previous season to spoil his rookie status. And there are a couple of big names: the New York Yankees’ Jorge Posada batted 188 times in 1997 before winning it all the following year, and–the closest to pulling it off —Mike Sciosia batted 134 times for the 1980 Los Angeles Dodgers, scotching his rookie status by four at-bats before winning it all in the strike-tainted following season. Among true rookies, a couple were part-timers on championship teams, including another big name, Yogi Berra, who played 83 games as a rookie on the 1947 New York Yankees, splitting duties with Aaron Robinson, and a certain Jack Lapp caught 71 games for the 1910 Philadelphia Athletics, sharing the job with Ira Thomas. Yet no rookie catcher has been the primary starter on a championship team.
In some ways Soto actually has more experience than many of those named above. He was up for cups of coffee in September of 2005 and 2006 before laying claim to the starting job late last year, but even so he kept his rookie status intact with 80 lifetime big-league at-bats. So don’t worry about the Cubs’ century-long championship drought: worry about them attempting something that’s never been done before in World Series history.